A group of highly influential Christian conservative leaders met over the weekend to discuss their rising dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and their willingness to consider supporting a third-party presidential bid should a supporter of abortion rights — specifically, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani — earn the GOP presidential nomination.
The meeting took place during a weekend convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, of the highly secretive Council for National Policy, an invitation-only organization of conservative leaders founded in 1981. Participants in the presidential discussion, however, said the smaller gathering was not an official CNP event.
Those at the smaller meeting included James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and Richard Viguerie, a direct mail pioneer, who recently authored "Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Republican Base."
Viguerie told ABC News that the meeting was attended by "nationally known conservative leaders, and we took a very strong stand against supporting any pro-abortion candidate.
"Giuliani is beyond the pale," Viguerie said. "It's just not going to happen. There's no way that conservative leaders are going to support a pro-abortion candidate. It was unanimous."
Sentiment among his fellow "value voter conservatives" was so strong, Viguerie said, there was "overwhelming support to consider that idea" of a third-party presidential candidate in the event that Giuliani wins the Republican presidential nomination.
Such a move is not a "done deed," he said, but he described how he'd been angry at the Republican Party for six years. "In the last six months, I've seen a vast majority of my colleagues, at the national level, move in that direction, including a willingness to go third party. They're even further along on the third-party idea than I am," Viguerie said.
Gary Bauer, who participated in the smaller discussion by phone, issued a statement Sunday evening, urging his friends to "be cautious," since he couldn't "think of a bigger disaster for social conservatives, defense conservatives and economic conservatives, than Hillary Clinton in the White House."
That said, Bauer, a former 2000 presidential candidate and current chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, seemed to agree that Giuliani's nomination would hurt the Republican Party, observing "that there are certain core issues for the Republican Party — low taxes, strong defense, and pro-life — and if we nominate someone who is hostile on one of those three things, it will blow up the GOP."
Asked for a response, the Giuliani campaign sent a statement from Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who has endorsed the former mayor, saying, "Conservatives are rallying around the one candidate with the executive experience and proven leadership our country needs. Mayor Giuliani will be successful in the primary and the general elections, because Republicans want a candidate who is strong on the terrorists' war on us, gets fiscal discipline, and can beat the Democratic nominee."